The plan to address the opiate addiction and overdose epidemic in New Jersey is multilayered, and one important piece of the puzzle is to make sure that the people with the power to hand out prescriptions for addiction medications have the education necessary to do so as safely as possible.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has released prescription guidelines to help limit the over-prescription of addictive medications for pain management, and in New Jersey, the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey is working to pass on those concepts to local prescribing physicians. Through “Do No Harm” seminars, the emphasis is placed on treatment that is holistic in nature for pain management. Rather than first prescribing medication, physicians are encouraged to exhaust all other resources first in an attempt to help relieve the patient’s pain.
Angela Conover is the media director for Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey. She says: “We have done over 15 (seminars) since 2013 and it’s to really educate prescribers, physicians and dentists about the safe prescribing of opiates. It’s about sharing some of the newest information and research about the addictive qualities of these opiates, about talking with patients and making decisions when prescribing dosage to start at a lower dose and prescribe more if necessary.”
If you, or a loved one, are dealing with chronic pain, it can be helpful to familiarize yourself with the CDC prescribing guidelines, as many NJ physicians will be making decisions with these in mind. For example, your doctor may:
- Work with you to create treatment goals that go beyond simply mitigating or managing pain.
- Talk to you about the risks that come with use of opiate drugs (e.g., hydrocodone, oxycodone, etc.).
- Direct you to undergo physical therapy, engage in gentle exercise, and/or change your diet, if appropriate.
- Prescribe a very low dose of a short-acting painkiller for a brief time, requiring regular check-ins with the goal of lowering the dose or keeping it as low as possible.
Additionally, there are regulations that are specific to New Jersey practitioners. For example, beginning on March 20, all doctors are required to limit first-time prescriptions for painkillers to a five-day supply of the lowest effective dose of an immediate-release drug.
Protecting Young People
Though careful management of painkillers is essential at every age, it is of exceptional importance for teenagers and young adults. According to the Partnership, teens who are prescribed addictive painkillers before they reach graduation are 33 percent more likely than their peers to develop a painkiller use disorder in adulthood.
Annmarie Shafer is the coalition coordinator for the Center for Prevention and Counseling. She said: “We know that youth who are prescribed an opiate for pain relief are much more likely to abuse those drugs down the road. There are safer options, and the surgeon general and the CDC want prescribers to understand those options and convey this important information to their patients and/or guardians. This alone would help the current opiate abuse epidemic by preventing new cases of addiction. Coupled with helping prescribers understand how medication-assisted treatments aid people who are already addicted and reducing the supply that is diverted from pill mills and the black market, we can hopefully begin to make a big difference and save lives.”
New Jersey Is Acting Now
Governor Chris Christie has made it clear in both word and deed that he is prioritizing the needs of families who are struggling with addiction in New Jersey. The training of physicians who may not specialize in pain management is one part of that plan, and so too is increasing access to the distribution of naloxone, an opiate overdose reversal drug; the increased education of young people so they better understand the nature of these devastating drugs; and increased access to treatment services for people who are living with an active addiction.
According to the CDC, the number of lives lost to heroin overdose has tripled since 2010. In New Jersey, the number of lives lost to heroin overdose is three times the national average – a more significant cause of death in the state than car accidents, murder, suicide, and HIV/AIDS.
If someone you love is living with an opiate addiction or if you are concerned about your use of painkillers for pain management, discuss holistic treatment options with your doctor. If problems persist, find out more about other medication alternatives; there are various options available.